A “newly discovered” Bible that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln has been put on display in Springfield, Illinois. Descendants of a friend of Lincoln’s have passed the Bible from generation to generation for the past 150 years until recently donating it to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
“We feel that Lincoln’s Bible belongs to the American people as a national treasure. Lincoln is our most revered president and this Bible will be a constant connection to his incredible life,” said Sandra Wolcott Willingham. Willingham is the great-great-granddaughter of Rev. Noyes W. Miner, who received the Bible as a gift from Mary Lincoln in 1872.
New Lincoln Bible
The New York Times reports that President Lincoln first received the Bible in 1864 in Philadelphia while at a charity event for wounded soldiers. Its pages are decorated with the words “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Charity,” a reference to 1 Corinthians 13. When Mary Lincoln gave the Bible to Miner, she put an inscription on the back that said, “Mrs. Abraham Lincoln to N.W. Miner, D.D., Oct. 15, 1872.” According to Mary, Lincoln highly valued Miner’s friendship and would visit him regularly. After Lincoln’s assassination, Miner read at the president’s funeral, was one of those who escorted his body, and kept in touch with Mary after her husband’s death.
Lincoln once called the Bible, “the best gift God has given to man.” Alan Lowe, the executive director of the library and museum, says that this Bible is “an important artifact to preserve for history’s sake, but also the beginning of a conversation about the relevance of Lincoln and the role of religion in our lives today.”
There is a lot of debate regarding what Lincoln actually believed about God. Known in his youth as the “village atheist,” scholars say he grew more religious later in his life. After his death, his White House secretary discovered a work in which Lincoln pondered God’s role amid the violence of the war. While some argue that Lincoln was a deist and others that he was a theist, a leading Lincoln biographer says that the Bible is “one more marker or signpost that Lincoln is on a journey.” The biographer believes that Lincoln’s progress on that journey became clearer during his second inaugural address, which the Times reports as being “infused with biblical allusions and mentions of God” and “was often called the most explicitly religious speech ever given by a president while taking the oath.” Lincoln gave this address in 1865, not long after receiving the Bible, and roughly a month before he would be assassinated.
Scholars had no idea that this particular Bible existed until Miner’s descendants decided to come forward with it. Willingham says the family initially wanted to gift the Bible to the Obama family out of the belief that Lincoln made the election of the first African-American president possible. Despite not hearing back from the Obamas, that election got Willingham thinking about Lincoln’s significance to the American people, and the family decided the Bible was something everyone should experience. “It’s just come to me—yes, [Lincoln] was incredible and we need to share this with the nation,” she said. “It needs to go back to the country.”